What percentage of the public think vaccines are safe? What share thinks they are ineffective? And what share denies their importance? In this post we present the global data on attitudes to vaccination. Here is a summary of the results:
- 92% of people in the world think vaccines are important for children to have;
- 7% of people globally disagree that vaccines are safe. But this differs considerably between different countries: France topped the list with 33% disagreeing;
- Globally, 5% of people disagree that vaccines are effective. But skepticism is high in some countries, ranging from 28% in Liberia to less than 1% in Bangladesh and Egypt;
- In many countries few people disagree that vaccines are safe and effective, but the share of people who “neither agree nor disagree” can be more than 50%.
The London-based research charity The Wellcome Trust published their Wellcome Global Monitor in 2019 on attitudes to science and major health challenges. It is the world’s largest study of its kind, surveying over 140,000 people from over 140 countries. As part of the Gallup World Poll, the 30-question survey ran during 2018.1
The Wellcome Trust survey asked three core questions related to attitudes to vaccines: do people think that vaccines are important for children to have; do they think vaccines are safe; and do they believe vaccines are effective.
More than 9-in-10 people in the world (92%) think that vaccines are important for children to have.
How support varies across the world is shown in the map. We see high support for vaccination across almost all countries. In most countries over 80% of respondents think child vaccination is important, in many countries it is over 90% who think so.
There is a visible North-South divide in attitudes: support is highest across South Asia at 98%; 97% in South America; 94% in Northern Africa; and 92% in Southern Africa. Support is still high, but lower across North America (87%); Western Europe (83%) and Eastern Europe (80%).
Of those surveyed in Venezuela, Palestine, Ethiopia and Northern Cyprus thought vaccines were most important: 100% were in favour.2
Some parents may not agree for children to be vaccinated if they think vaccines are unsafe or could potentially cause side-effects which are worse than the benefits. How prevalent are these safety concerns?
Globally, a small share of people disagree that vaccines are safe. Only 7% of respondents across the world said they “strongly disagree” or “somewhat disagree” with the statement ‘Vaccines are safe’.
In many countries these concerns are very low: in Bangladesh, for example, less than 1% disagree that vaccines are safe. In neighbouring India, only 2% disagree. We see this distribution across the world in the map.
Trust in vaccines is not high everywhere. There are some clear outliers. The French were most skeptical: 1-in-3 disagreed that vaccines were safe. Many in neighbouring Switzerland and Belgium were also very skeptical: more than 20% disagreed. Other countries with high mistrust of vaccine safety were Gabon (26%); Togo (25%); Russia (24%); Austria (21%), and Iceland (21%).
In response to the statement ‘Vaccines are effective’, only 5% of respondents across all surveyed countries said they “strongly disagree” or “somewhat disagree”. The vast majority of people do not think of vaccines as ineffective.
But, as with the other surveyed questions, this varies significantly across countries. We see this in the map. In some countries, very few respondents disagreed: less than 1% in Bangladesh and Egypt; 2% in India and Ethiopia; and 3% in China, Germany and the UK.
Liberia is most skeptical with 28% disagreeing that vaccines are effective. But skepticism was also high in France (18%); Namibia (16%); Nigeria (16%); and Peru (15%).
The finding of the Wellcome Trust of mostly very positive attitudes towards vaccines – a health intervention that saves millions of lives and eradicated one of the worst diseases humanity ever faced – is a very positive finding.
But there is a concerning finding which is hidden when we look only at agreement and disagreement to the questions in the Global Monitor.
Take Japan as one example. Only 66% of Japanese respondents thought vaccines were important for children to have – very low in comparison to other countries. But few disagreed that vaccines were safe (only 8%) and disagreed that they’re effective (only 3%). If few people thought they were unsafe and ineffective, why would support for vaccines be so low?
Many Japanese respondents did not answer either way. 28% answered “neither agree nor disagree” to whether child vaccination is important; 55% to the question regarding the safety of vaccines; and one-third were undecided on their effectiveness. It’s difficult here, without further questions, to fully interpret the opinions of those in this undecided category: maybe they had no opinion; or they thought vaccines could be safe or effective in some cases, but not all; or some vaccines were safe but others were not. With this data, it’s impossible to fully understand their reasoning.
This stance was common across several other countries, as we see in the map.
While being undecided or divided is perhaps less concerning than denialism on the importance, safety and effectiveness of vaccination, it nonetheless suggests that many are unaware of the massive role vaccines have played in eradicating diseases, and saving lives across the world. The success story of vaccines is one we don’t tell often enough.
It’s also true that people in the ‘neither’ group may be more likely to be convinced by arguments that are put forward by those who deny the safety, effectiveness and importance of vaccination. In a related post we take a look at why denialism around vaccination exists, and what is effective in addressing it.